It wasn’t the best picture in the exhibition. The Impressionists on Paper was in part curated around capturing the tempo of the early modernist world, the City – the City being Paris mainly – and sketches that caught moments “imbued with our surroundings, our sentiments, the things of our age” (Edmond Duranty). Degas’ ballet dancers, joking with each other at the barre or behind stage. Toulouse Lautrec’s sketched intimacies among the women at the brothel. Others, like Jean-Louis Forain’s Dance Card, conveying nicely a woman practically assessing her options at the dance, expressive of a light, wry humour – the dance card being the perfect example of a ’thing of our age’, an apparently transitory object that nevertheless connects with sex, society, and the night. Moments behind the manners of the age, behind the stage – many of the pictures were of people dressing or undressing, lacing and unlacing, before going out or just coming back, of thrown comments to a passer by, or blurs of faces caught through the windows of cabs (Giuseppe de Nittis’ wonderful In the Cab). Motion and sentiment, little rapidly sketched dance cards, the moments around the performance, the things of our age.

It was a vivid charcoal silhouette by Seurat caught my eye though. It was static and seemed timeless rather than of the moment, and symbolic rather than anecdotal; from a distance across the room at first I thought it an image of Death. The Gleaner. Someone who scratches at the ground of a field that’s been harvested to glean what they can.

So, not Death, what happens after Death has visited. 

Also, forcibly, to me, at this moment, an image of mental decay. What it feels like to be scratching around your mind for information, thoughts, words, that will not come. A sudden, vivid expression of how I’ve been feeling as I experience what seems to be a decay in my mental and intellectual faculties as rapid as the sudden decay of my eyesight.

That dark underlayer of ground the region of information: intractable, obscure, barren and cognate with synapses/nerves tangled, plaqued and sclerotic. Any fruit or grain already reaped and carelessly squandered.

Also maybe what it’s like also to engage in psychotherapy, gleaning from roots and chaff and scattered seeds. 

Seurat's picture The Gleaner, the dark charcoal silhouette of a hatted peasant bending down to scratch at a field for gleanings

Maybe I’m just tired.

The Keshiki Round Here is Not Profound Enough

There’s a kind of project in which I’ve found myself involved – trying to connect my internal emotional life to my internal rational life and the external emotional world. I haven’t been very successful at this, but it feels psychologically necessary.

When I was a 15/16 year-old in south-east England, i used to clamber up the North Downs and look out, back, south, over the High Weald of Kent and Sussex. But mainly it was to look away from its stifling political and cultural conservatism in commuter belt england, away to somehow manage and understand the usual teenage morass of feeling, sex, intellect, creativity and boredom that was incoherently bubbling away in me. It was a desire to be in a city, or at a university, to be in love with exotic people, and discovering and inventing new spaces in which to exist. That world was not actually to be found where I was looking, unless it was out of sight and over the channel, but in the space into which I was looking, both internal and beyond.

Continue reading “The Keshiki Round Here is Not Profound Enough”